Genius A&R Man Stein On Top Again

Label exec who signed Ramones, Madonna named head of new Sire Records Group.

It couldn't have been more appropriate that legendary A&R man Seymour Stein

sounded just a bit fatigued Wednesday morning as he spoke about the new Sire

Records Group, for which he was named president and CEO last week. True to his

visionary reputation, Stein had been out until 3 a.m.

catching a live display of power pop from the Apples In Stereo down in

Philadelphia.

Stein -- who over the past three decades has brought the Ramones, Talking

Heads, Madonna, the Smiths and k.d. lang to the ears of the world -- is always on the

lookout.

Thirty-one years after he founded the cutting edge Sire label, Stein said

that he has come "full-circle" by signing on to head up Warner Music

Group's reborn version of Sire. "I think the time is right," he said of

his decision to retake the helm of the company he founded in 1966 and sold

to Warner in 1980. "All the companies today are either so big, or they're

small -- we're going to be right in the middle."

During the 1970s and '80s, Stein was renowned for bringing the noise first

of New York punk, then new wave, to a mass audience. In addition to the

Ramones and Talking Heads, he signed Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the

Flaming Groovies. Over the next decade he went on to break not only such

important acts as Madonna and k.d. lang, but the Pretenders, the Smiths,

Echo and the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode.

Stein said he plans to pilot the reincarnated Sire in the same visionary

direction that he originally forged for his label before leaving to become

president of Elektra Entertainment in 1995. Space

Hog, Hurricane #1 and Aphex Twin are among the current bands with whom he's

most excited to work. "I truly believe in these bands the way I believed

in the others," he said.

Because Sire Records will be a free-standing company with its own marketing

and promotion as well as distribution ties, Stein said he'll also be able to

follow his passion for country music, something he was unable to pursue

with his label in its original incarnation. "I'll get involved more

through the backdoor, through Americana, what they call alternative

country. To me that's more country than country."

Stein added, however that "I'm still an Anglophile."

The same keen ear for

British pop that pulled Stein toward the Smiths, Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen is today

leading him to bands such as Space Hog.

The label head is best-known, though, for capitalizing on the revolutionary

sounds coming out of clubs such as C.B.G.B.'s in New York during the mid-'70s.

It is there that Stein heard the Ramones play classics such as "Rockaway Beach" (RealAudio excerpt), "Judy Is a

Punk," "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."

"When I went down to see them, it was all great," Stein said. "They wrote great melodies and great songs. That's what nobody was

saying, and that's what I saw, and that's what I believed in. Dee-Dee and

Joey were classic songwriters."

Stein said he continues to generate ties with independent labels, such as

Britain's Che and Amos imprints, something he said majors must do to remain

a vital force.

"The major companies have a hard time dealing with things quickly at the

grass roots level," Stein said. "[Historically], the majors were not

dealing with rhythm and blues very well or rockabilly. It just continued

on and on. The same can be said with disco, with dance music, with rap.

Independents are the people who are out there. They can't compete for the

acts that everyone wants because they have no money. What they have to do

is find the music before it becomes popular. They have to have courage." [Wed., Nov. 19, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]